That process starts with realizing you’re not alone. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, 64% of those who already struggle with their mental health say that the holidays make their conditions worse. But even if you don’t have a mental health condition, fatigue is real and normal, according to Mariah Gallagher, LCSW, a therapist at Alma Therapy. “Holiday fatigue is incredibly normal—especially considering that the holidays come just after daylight saving time, which can throw off our circadian rhythm and mess with melatonin production," she says. (Which explains why it's easy to feel tired and lethargic at odd times.)
Jordan Crofton, Director of Patient Care at THE WELL and a family nurse practitioner, adds that fatigue can surface in the most subtle of ways. “On a physiological level, we as humans are resilient creatures, but our bodies can only handle so much,” explains Crofton. “At a certain point and with enough triggers, we can develop a lack of resilience.”
Feeling in danger of holiday fatigue, overwhelm, or even burnout? Read on for suggestions on managing your holiday fatigue.
Try to find the root cause
“When it comes to addressing fatigue, it’s important to look deeper into the root cause,” explains Crofton. “In functional medicine, we do an in-depth workup of a patient dealing with chronic fatigue to see if common factors—poor gut health, chronic infections, hormone imbalances, poor sleep quality—are the culprit. However, quite often the fatigue is a result of chronic stress.”
Pinpointing where your stress stems from can help you reverse-engineer a solution. If the root cause rests in your body, Riser Physical Therapy founder Dave Gershkovich, DPT, recommends focusing on efficient breathing patterns. “Try belly breathing instead of chest breathing, calming meditation, light cardio, and spine-opening exercises,” he says, noting that they help the body regain more energy.
Prioritize sleep hygiene
Sleep is one of the few factors that you can aim to control during a stressful season, even if other areas of your life feel unmanageable at the moment. “Sleep hygiene can be a great place to start,” says Crofton. “Research also shows us that sleep and immunity are bidirectionally linked, and getting sick certainly isn’t going to help our energy levels.”
Crofton’s tips include maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, not drinking caffeine past late morning, limiting alcohol intake close to bedtime, and retiring electronics at least an hour before going to bed. If you can, Crofton also suggests watching the sunset. “The contrast between blue and yellow wavelengths triggers neurons in our retina to set our circadian clock,” she says.
Move your body
Your mental and physical health will benefit if you’re able to stick to an exercise routine. A trainer or physical therapist can help support you if you feel too fatigued, or overwhelmed, to tend to your body on your own.
“Fatigue and exhaustion can present as pain, sluggishness, general weakness, demotivation, and irritability,” explains Gershkovich. “Anyone that is presenting with musculoskeletal pain, mobility impairments, issues with daily functional activities, or just needs some help getting started with a safe, effective exercise and mobility program, should seek out a licensed physical therapist.”
Lean into a self-compassion practice
Focusing on a self-compassion practice is key to regaining energy this season, explains Gallagher. Whether you’re a parent who is working from home while the kids are off from school, or you’re struggling with tense family dynamics and seasonal depression, an intentional self-compassion routine is necessary.
“Utilize self-compassion to determine whether keeping ‘the same level of energy’ makes sense under the circumstances," Gallagher says. "Perhaps it’s not healthy or feasible for you to keep your stamina or pace consistent all season long. This could lead to burnout at the end of a long push to override your needs throughout the holidays." That's why it's key to prioritize—even schedule—time for you to recuperate, even if it's just a moment here and there.
“We know that there is always going to be stress in our lives. The key is how we're able to respond to stress over time,” adds Crofton. “It's important that we work on building stress resilience through practices like meditation, breathing, and exercise.”
Turn to the right community for you
Setting boundaries can be emotionally taxing. If you’re still needing to be around family or friends who are emotionally draining this holiday season, Gallagher recommends offsetting that energy by surrounding yourself with those who fill your cup.
“Socializing in general requires a lot of functions simultaneously—talking, listening, synthesizing information, responding appropriately," she says. "Not to mention doing all of this with family and friends who may activate/trigger some negative experiences or feelings based on your interpersonal dynamics with them." She recommends reflecting on what helps you recalibrate after a big energy spend. That could be tried-and-true activities such as taking a bath or meditating, but surprisingly, it may also involve socializing."You might need to engage with someone who is very emotionally safe to you, such as a best friend or partner," she says. "[That should be] someone who allows you to authentically debrief about these more exhausting social experiences without judgment." As it turns out, the solution to holiday overwhelm and fatigue isn't to go about it yourself—it's about taking care of yourself and getting support when you need it.
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